Why is “Grasping Sparrow's Tail” so important in Taijiquan?
It is because this one pattern incorporates all the fundamental requirements of Taijiquan, including differentiating Yin-Yang:
Generating Qi Flow
Developing Internal Force
Traditionally, Grasping Sparrow's Tail is said to be composed of four fundamental techniques — Peng or Ward Off, Lu or Roll Back, Qi or Press Forward, and An or Push. But we in Shaolin Wahnam Institute identify a fifth technique, Chen or Sink Back, between Qi and An. And we name the patterns that implement the techniques as follows:
Peng or Ward Off — Immortal Waves Sleeves
Lu or Roll Back — Double Dragons Play with Pearl
Qi or Press Forward — Push Boat According to Flow of Stream
Chen or Sink Back — Black Bear Sinks Hips
An or Push — Push Open Window to Look at Moon
In this video I will show, amongst other things, how you should adjust your foot position, transfer your body weight, turn your waist to lead your body, and follow through with your hands — the mechanics of the three external harmonies.
It is reputed that Yang Lu Chan practiced Grasping Sparrow's Tail thousands of times daily. But we believe Grasping Sparrow's Tail was not formalized yet; what he performed were undefined flowing movements poetically described as Flowing Water, Floating Clouds, shortened to Cloud Hands. For the convenience of teaching, these movements were gradually formalized and defined into Grasping Sparrow's Tail.
Zhang San Feng was a great Shaolin master, a fact not many people realize. Before him, Shaolin practitioners first practiced the physical form of Shaolin Kungfu. Those who had proven themselves to be worthy, were taught Nei Kung, or Internal Art, which is now more commonly called Qigong, or Energy Art. When a few of them had become advanced, they were taught meditation, or a training of mind.
After graduating from the Shaolin Temple in Henan, Zhang San Feng retired on the Wudang Mountain in Hebei to continue his training to attain Enlightenment, which he did. As he was a very advanced Shaolin practitioner, he performed his Shaolin Kungfu in Qi flow and a meditative state of mind.
After completing a set, he remained at standing meditation when he would sway gently and blissfully, known as Flowing Breeze, Swaying Willows, and sometimes going into graceful movements in Qi flow, poetically described as Flowing Water, Floating Clouds, which was later shortened to Cloud Hands.
Most people who practice Taijiquan all over the world today do so for health reasons, and Taijiquan is excellent for promoting health. But you should remember the following two points if you want more benefits from your Taijiquan training. One, Taijiquan is basically a martial art, and two, even if your main intention of practicing Taijiquan is for health and not for combat, you should practice it as a martial art.
Yet, more than an excellent martial art, Taijiquan is a program for spiritual cultivation, irrespective of race, culture and religion. Of course, not many people are ready for, or interested in, spiritual cultivation; that is the reason why this spiritual aspect of Taijiquan is seldom discussed and little known. Actually, spiritual cultivation was the original aim of Taijiquan when it was first evolved from Shaolin Kungfu by Zhang San Feng.
Practicing Taijiquan is helpful if you are interested in spiritual cultivation. If you can attain the advanced level of Taijiquan training whereby your form, energy flow and mind have become one, you may have direct experiences that you are actually more than your physical body, thus giving you experiential result of spiritual cultivation which many people merely read about in books.